Saturday, August 06, 2011

The Hinds Head And Tales Of Olde Puddings

Guest post by Dom Bailey

If the haggis is the great chieftain o’ the puddin' race, the Hinds Head in the upmarket village of Bray, in Berkshire, has snagged a couple of others from the noble hierarchy.

Given that owner, Heston Blumenthal, is the Dr Frankenstein of gastromistry, you are more likely to find something Mary Shelley herself may have tucked into.

Little numbers by some of the dishes denote the age of resurrected recipes - but resurrected to live and taste as intended. Veal chops with cabbage and onion and sauce 'reform' (c.1830) are not out of place alongside the no-nonsense Hereford rib-eye with bone marrow, or bream, peas, mussels and borage, or pork belly with pearl barley and wheat beer.

I could have gone for all five starters - ham hock and foie gras terrine, crab on toast, raw venison, tea-smoked salmon, or lemon salad with cider-poached pear, goat's curd and walnuts (this, the menu modernistically warns, may contain nuts...) But instead I opted for a more rounded meal - a Scotch egg and two puddings.

I have only recently discovered that Scotch eggs do not have to be the shot put balls of grisly meat, air-pocket and dry hard-boiled egg found in school canteens, salad bars, and service station fridges.

In fact, I'd hazard to say the proof of a place is in its Scotch egg.
I mean really, how do they do it? Crispy salt-flaked breadcrumbs, tender sausage meat, and a soft-boiled quail's egg oozing yolk out of the middle. Soft-boiled!

But the proof is also in the puddings, as you might say.

The first is a specials/signature dish alongside the vivid pea and ham soup, or Cornish mackerel with Jersey potatoes, smoked fennel and red gooseberry chutney.

It is oxtail and kidney pudding (top pic) - a steaming flat-topped dome of delight in a silky, rich sauce. The pudding shell is thankfully thin and splits open to reveal the shreds of oxtail and kidney chunks. The beefy flavour is intense but not overpowering. A slightly thicker amount of pudding below - but all the better for mopping up the sauce. It’s definitely a plate-licking dish.

We had it served with sand carrots (growing them in sand makes them sweeter apparently, and I guess a lot less knobbly) and a baby spinach salad with an anchovy dressing, hazelnuts, and Lord of the Hundreds ewe's milk cheese. Ok, the salad was for my partner who had the mackerel, but it was fantastic with the salty anchovy, nutty cheese and nutty nuts.

The second pudding had the number c.1700 together with a little explanation card about the origin of puddings. I won't spoil it, but basically it dates back to a time when puddings got sweet, coming out of their haggis-binding intestine skins and into cloths.

The speckled, wobbly blob on the board next to some apple strands is Quaking Pudding. If I said imagine a warm, cinnamon-spiced panna cotta it wouldn't do it justice. There is just something comforting and earthily-maternal about each mouthful. The queen o’ the puddin' race, no less.

Other desserts - not puddings - include banana Eton Mess, and another resurrection and intriguingly-named chocolate wine ‘slush’ with millionaire shortbread (c.1660).

The Hinds Head looks like a country village pub, but it has foregone the soul-destroying gastropub/bistro make-over to keep the dark wooden panels, polished leather, and ghosts of a bygone era (there's even a Duck or Grouse warning sign to mind your head on the low beams...)

There's a bustle of black-dressed staff, and local drinkers are confined to the small bar area (during this Friday evening session at any rate). But worth seeking out for any time-travelling fans of the Great British pudding.

Price: £88 for two people, including a few pints of Marlow Brewery Smugglers ale (rather than the £600 bottle of Chateau Latour premier grand cru, Pauillac).

The Hinds Head: High Street, Bray, Berkshire, UK, SL6 2AB
Tel: +44 (0)1628 626151, email:

:: Dom Bailey is a writer and musician. His songs – largely inspired, appropriately enough, by old English tales - are here...


@NorthernSnippet said...

Almost makes me want to go :)

Lennie Nash said...

Definitely better puddings than the Fat Duck.